Civic leaders, water utilities renew efforts to protect consumers from MTBE 'safe harbor'

The American Water Works Association (AWWA) and a coalition of civic organizations and water advocates urged U.S. representatives and senators to resist the oil lobby's latest push to grant defective product liability immunity to gasoline makers in cases of water supplies contaminated by MTBE.


Washington, D.C., Feb. 25, 2004 -- The American Water Works Association (AWWA) and a coalition of civic organizations and water advocates urged U.S. representatives and senators to resist the oil lobby's latest push to grant defective product liability immunity * so-called "safe harbor" -- to gasoline makers in cases of water supplies contaminated by MTBE.

Bi-partisan distaste for the MTBE provision blocked passage of the Energy Bill in the Senate last session, and the measure was eliminated in a revised Senate bill introduced Feb. 12. However, oil industry lobbyists still insist that MTBE safe harbor be included in whatever energy legislation finally emerges from Congress.

"Mainstream Americans see MTBE 'safe harbor' for what it is: bad public policy that serves special interests at the expense of water consumers," said AWWA Executive Director Jack Hoffbuhr. "This provision has already choked the life from a previous version of the national Energy Bill. Now the oil lobby wants to force-feed it to Congress again. Local communities, water utilities and consumers don't want the energy bill, transportation bill or any other legislation contaminated by MTBE safe harbor."

MTBE, methyl tertiary butyl ether, has contaminated hundreds of water supplies nationwide, and U.S. EPA classifies it as a possible human carcinogen. Court documents have shown that gasoline manufacturers understood MTBE could spread farther and faster in the environment than other gasoline constituents and was a threat to drinking water supplies.

The open letter, which was published in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, reminds lawmakers that MTBE cleanup will cost at least $29 billion nationwide. The letter was signed by AWWA, the National League of Cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National Association of Towns and Townships, the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, the Association of California Water Agencies, the Western Coalition of Arid States and the American Public Works Association.

"It's clear that Americans do not want this provision in the energy bill," Hoffbuhr said. "If special interests try to attach MTBE safe harbor to other legislation, it should be turned away like a parasite seeking a new host."

AWWA is the authoritative resource for knowledge, information, and advocacy to improve the quality and supply of drinking water in North America and beyond. AWWA is the largest organization of water professionals in the world. AWWA advances public health, safety and welfare by uniting the efforts of the full spectrum of the drinking water community.

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